The main challenge for light-emitting diodes is to increase the efficiency in the green part of the spectrum. Gallium phosphide (GaP) with the normal cubic crystal structure has an indirect band gap, which severely limits the green emission efficiency. Band structure calculations have predicted a direct band gap for wurtzite GaP. Here, we report the fabrication of GaP nanowires with pure hexagonal crystal structure and demonstrate the direct nature of the band gap. We observe strong photoluminescence at a wavelength of 594 nm with short lifetime, typical for a direct band gap. Furthermore, by incorporation of aluminum or arsenic in the GaP nanowires, the emitted wavelength is tuned across an important range of the visible light spectrum (555–690 nm). This approach of crystal structure engineering enables new pathways to tailor materials properties enhancing the functionality.